Thursday, April 1, 2010
Gwen Verdon- Dancer
Gwen Verdon's, family could be described as "show people." Her father was an electrician at the MGM studios and her mother was a former vaudevillian of the Denishawn dance troupe, as well as a dance teacher. As a child, Gwen had rickets, and was called "Gimpy" by other children and spent years in orthopedic boots and leg braces. Ballet training strengthened her legs. By the time she was six, she was dancing on stage. She went on to study dance, ranging from tap, jazz, ballroom and flamenco to Balinese. At age 11, she performed as a solo ballerina in the film The King Steps Out(1936). She then went on to study under balletomane Ernest Belcher and was cast in a revival of Show Boat. Verdon shocked everyone when she abandoned her career in 1942 to elope with reporter James Henaghan. In 1945, she performed as a dancer in the musical The Blond From Brooklyn. Needing to earn a living, Verdon found a job as assistant to choreographer Jack Cole. During her five-year employment with Cole, she took small roles in musicals as a "specialty dancer". She also taught dance to performers such as Jane Russell, Gene Kelly, Fernando Lamas, Lana Turner, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. Verdon started out on Broadway going from one chorus line to another. Her breakthrough role came when choreographer Michael Kidd cast her in Cole Porter's musical Can-Can (1953), starring Lilo. Reviews stated that Verdon's performance of Eve in the Garden of Eden ballet upstaged the shows star, who demanded Verdon's role be cut to only two featured dance numbers. With that Verdon wanted to quit the show. But opening night, the audience screamed her name until the actress was brought stage to take a curtain call. Verdon was considered the best dancer on Broadway in the 1950s and '60s. She performed in her next show, Damn Yankees (1955). It was on this show that she first worked with Bob Fosse as her choreographer and fiancee. Another Tony came when Verdon played a role in the musical New Girl in Town. In 1966, Verdon returned to the stage in Sweet Charity. Verdon would also travel to Berlin to help Fosse with Cabaret. Although they became estranged as a couple by this time, Verdon and Fosse continued to work on projects such as Chicago (1975) and the musical Dancin' (1978), as well as Fosse's autobiographical movie All That Jazz (1979). She kept Fosse's trademark choreography alive after Fosse's death in the highly successful Broadway revival of "Chicago" that opened in 1996. Verdon then focused playing character roles in movies such as The Cotton Club (1984), Cocoon (1985) and Cocoon: The Return (1988). She continued to teach dance and musical theater and to act. She receiving three Emmy Award nominations for performances on Magnum PI (1988), Dream On (1993) and Homicide (1993). Verdon performed in the Woody Allen movie Alice (1990) and in Marvin's Room (1996). In 1999, Verdon worked as artistic consultant on a Broadway musical designed to showcase Fosse choreography, called Fosse. Verdon's daughter Nicole received a "special thanks" credit. The show received a Tony for best musical. Verdon played in the movie Walking Across Egypt (1999) and appeared in the film Bruno( 2000) .Verdon received a total of four Tonys, for best supporting actress for Can-Can (1953) and best leading actress for Damn Yankees (1955), New Girl in Town (1957) and Redhead (1959). She also won a Grammy Award for the cast recording of Redhead. In 1998, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts.